“Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” I might amend that to say, “Beautiful are the feet which fit in last year’s school shoes.” You might think that scripture would say, “Beautiful is the face,” or “Beautiful is the voice,” but no, “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Feet are important. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, footwear contributed $354 Billion to the American Economy in 2012. Footwear is a lucrative business, and I think it’s a fair statement to say that the industry is built on the promise shoes offer. Shoes promise to make you jump higher, run faster, stand taller, walk without pain, make an outfit, work harder, etc. The good news these beautiful feet offer also make a promise—“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Not “might be,” or “could be,” or if they never screw up there is a possibility of salvation—it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Saved from what? Fair question. Paul doesn’t say . . . well, sort of. If “Confess Jesus Christ as your savior and you shall be saved,” is enough for you, then I say, “Amen!” You have my blessing to stop reading, but I need more. What are we talking about? What is Confession? What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord? Saved from what?
“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that the person who does these things will live by them.’” Paul is quoting Leviticus 18:5 as he sets up his argument between “righteousness from the law” and “righteousness from faith.” “Righteousness” means, “Ongoing relationship or connection with God.” Sometimes we think of righteousness as never messing up or being holy or being right all the time. You are one of the righteous when you have an ongoing and consistent connection with God. Usually good choices, a sense of peace, deep and abiding friendships, these things can flow from loving God and neighbor, but they aren’t the prerequisite. It’s not that you do these good things which counts you as righteous; rather your connection with God gives birth to good things.
Paul sets up an argument about “righteousness from the law” and “righteousness from faith.” These are not mutually exclusive. It is not about following one or the other. Paul is not throwing out the law, in fact to argue “righteousness from faith,” he quotes the law—Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Romans 10:5-8 are quotes from Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 30, respectively. So when Paul is talking about righteousness from faith as opposed to the law, he’s quoting from the law. That should be our first clue that the goal is not to throw away the law—Paul’s using it! On one side we have “righteousness from the law” or having a connection with God through the law—the person who does these things will live by them. On the other side we have “righteousness from faith,” or relationship with God through faith. What’s the difference?
Football season is so close I can taste it. One way to look at this is to imagine a football field. The Law is the boundary line. It shows us what is out-of-bounds, so to speak. You don’t have much of a game if there isn’t an end zone or yard markers. Faith, on the other hand, is what happens within the boundaries. Faith is the actual game. Having a connection with football through the law would be like painting the white lines on the field. It’s a great meditative practice, but at the end of the day the score is still zero to zero. Bringing the football across the goal line is what actually has value. Now, every metaphor has its limits, but follow me… The point is the game. Professional wide receivers can run a ten-yard out route without looking at the lines on the field. At some point, you get so good at playing you no longer need lines. “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” Paul says via Deut. 30.
If I were to say, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” what goes through your mind? How about “Four score and seven years ago?” How about “I have a dream?” There are some images in our culture so vivid that only a word or a phrase is needed. When Paul writes, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” the community would have remembered Moses standing before the crowd in Deuteronomy, saying to them, “Here is the will of God. Here is the law. If you follow it, it will be a blessing to you. If you turn from it, it will become a curse to you.” By the time Paul is writing, the Jewish community knew that the Law had become a curse because they had turned away from it. This gave rise to the Pharisees who zealously following the law in order to reverse the curse, so to speak, but reversing the curse is not something humanity is able to achieve. When Paul says, “Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord,” it goes beyond what the mouth says. Paul is talking about the recognition that it is through Christ and not zealously following the law, that we are reconciled. Paul is not pointing us to confession as much as Paul is pointing us to Jesus. Some take this more literally, saying, “You have to say that Jesus is Lord,” but that is akin to painting the lines on the field. The point isn’t the confession; as much as living the realization that Jesus is Lord.
Now, the lines are needed. Confession is needed. Daily confession is needed. For many, there comes a time when you hit your knees, look up to the heavens and say, “Lord, what I’m doing ain’t working.” If that is where you are, I pray that you offer me the opportunity to bless the water and pour it over your head and say, “You are forgiven. Get up, you beautiful child of God. But at a certain point, your Christian journey is such that you don’t need the lines anymore, your action, your attitude, your very presence expresses that Jesus is Lord. It is Jesus who reverses the curse not my righteousness. If you want to be Methodist about it, it’s called Sanctification. It’s part of the process of salvation. Justification is when the master looks at the Prodigal and says, “Welcome home.” Sanctification is the power of the Holy Spirit to keep you in the master’s house.
Those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Saved from what? That’s a great question. This would have been a grand opportunity for Paul to lay out his doctrine of Hell, but he didn’t. So, what are we talking about? Hang on to your seat! Verse 13—“Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord,” refers to Joel 2:32, which is talking about The Day of the Lord. Joel says, “I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those who the Lord calls.” This for Joel is referencing Ezekiel 32 which reads, “Mortal, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him . . . I will drench the land with your flowing blood up to the mountains, and the watercourses will be filled with you. When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon shall not give its light,” which remembers Exodus 10 and the plague of darkness which is the plague that leads into the death of the first born and the Passover. So when Paul says that those who call upon the Lord will be saved, they will be saved from darkness, from death, from being forgotten, from endless bondage for it was the death of the first born and the blood of the lamb which caused the angel of death to pass over the Ancient Israelites, leading them into freedom. So who is the Lord to whom we call out? You see, Paul isn’t necessarily talking about the after life; rather he is trying to show the people that the Lord is not the Law. The Lord is Christ Jesus.
How will they know? Who will tell them? Often these few verses are used to legitimize evangelism. I want to go on record in saying that I have no problem with spreading the Gospel. Please hear me! Paul is referring to Israel. How will Israel know that Christ is the Lord? Masterfully, Paul has been using the law as a means to point to Christ this whole time. So when he asks, “How will they know?” It’s been there from the beginning. When he says, “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” he’s not talking about bring the gospel to the Amazon, again a fruitful mission, just not what Paul is talking about. “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” is an answer to the question because it is a reference to the messiah from Isaiah 52-55. Jesus is from God. Jesus is the way. Isaiah says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns…” See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high . . . surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; struck down by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed . . . Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy, and eat! Incline you ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live. I will make with you and everlasting covenant (55:1, 3).
Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. The feet which were pierced and the feet which walked out of the tomb so that we might be saved, so that we might find abundant life. Go and live as if you believe it to be true. May you find abundant life today. Amen and amen.